The return of Ray Emery to Scotiabank Place is only one part of the intrigue as the Chicago Blackhawks visit the Ottawa Senators Friday.
Emery, the former bold and brash Senators goaltender will be playing here for the first time since he was bought out of his contract by the Senators in 2008, after his well-publicized series of misadventures on an off and the ice. In quite the coincidence, Emery will be going head-to-head against Robin Lehner, the current bold and brash Senators netminder who has had his own share of controversies while trying to establish himself as a full-time NHL player.
Emery is fresh from a strong relief appearance of supposed number one goaltender Corey Crawford on Wednesday, when he led Chicago to a come from 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The victory gave the Blackhawks a five-point edge on Colorado in the fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Lehner, recalled from the AHL to replace injured number one goaltender Craig Anderson,
is coming off his first career shutout, a 1-0 defeat of the Boston Bruins Tuesday. The Senators now hold an eight-point bulge on ninth-placed Winnipeg.
In keeping with theme of similarities, the Blackhawks and Senators check in with identical goals for (2.98) and goals against numbers (2.92).
“You always like playing against guys you used to play with and are friends with and it makes it more of a challenge,” said Jason Spezza, Emery’s former roommate. “He has battled real hard and gone through a lot of adversity and I don’t think people realize how hard his (hip) surgery was and for him to be back playing at the level he is, it’s pretty impressive.”
Emery went from Ottawa to Russia for one season. He then signed in Philadelphia, where he suffered a career-threatening hip injury. He was out of hockey for more than a year while recovering from a controversial surgery before signing with Anaheim late last season. He earned a back-up spot in Chicago this season, but with Crawford struggling, he’s now receiving his chance.
It was also no surprise that Senators coach Paul MacLean gave the nod to Lehner, who is doing his best to let his goaltending do the talking for him.
“As I keep saying, of course it’s great opportunity and it’s fun to be up here with the guys and the atmosphere in this town and this room and this building is great.,” he said.
Pressed on whether he feels he has established himself as an NHL player, he says, “it’s not up to me to decide where I am in that process.”
Back in September, nobody would have expected the Senators to be on equal footing with the Blackhawks, who were considered to be a front runner for the Stanley Cup thanks to a talent base that includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. In some ways, the Senators wanted to model themselves after Chicago, which took advantage of high draft picks to win the Stanley Cup in 2010.
The Blackhawks, however, have had major injury problems – Toews and defenceman Nikolas Hjalmarrson are among the players who will be missing Friday – but it’s also an example of how the salary cap has allowed for league parity.
After winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks were forced to trade away many stars because they became a victim of their own success, unable to afford all their talent.
“You’ve got to make choices, you can’t keep everybody,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. “You do a great job of drafting, and then you have to see (players) go because there’s a salary cap, that’s kind of sad. You’ve got to make sure you make the most of the opportunities when you have a good team, because it’s tough to keep everything together. It’s a lot harder to be a GM now than it was before.”
KARLSSON KUDOS KEEP COMING: On the same day that Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson was named as the NHL’s second star of the month (seven goals and 11 assists in 12 games), a USA Today panel rated him as the league’s top defenceman, ahead of Boston’s Zdeno Chara and Nashville’s Shea Weber. Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith was the NHL’s first star of the month, posting an 11-0-0 record and 1.42 goals against average during March … The Senators practice on Thursday was attended by appoximately 2,000 students as part of the organization’s third annual Faceoff Fieldtrip … Senators centre Jesse Winchester, who hasn’t played since Dec. 20 due to a concussion, is showing signs of progress. Winchester has practiced, on his own, for the past three days. “A first for everything,” Winchester tweeted. “Bag skated in front of a few thousand fans today. And yes, I was as tired as I looked!” … Hockey Canada announced Thursday that fans who purchase a ticket package for the 2013 world women’s hockey championship at Scotiabank Place will receive a free ticket to an exhibition game between Canada and the United States at the Civic Centre on March 31. The Canadian women are holding their selection camp for the 2012 championships – to be played in Burlington, Vermont Apri 7-14 – at Carleton University March 27-31.